Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: Heavy: An American Memoir

Heavy: An American Memoir Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've struggled with this book - reading it, reviewing it - for a host of reasons. There has been a lot of discussion in Instagram about white people reading black memoirs and adding to the audience of suffering. I haven't participated in the discussion but I have been following it to a small extent.

On Friday, I went to a Beloved Community breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr., with 200 or so people from my community gathering together. The speaker was Wade Davis, an activist who is openly gay but also works against toxic masculinity, etc. His advice had several points but ended with telling everyone they should read - read books by people who are not like you, read to understand them, to gain empathy, until they are you and you do not see them as the other.

So this is the perspective through which I read Laymon's memoir.

I was first introduced to this book at AWP in Tampa, when I attended a panel called "This is Scary and Here We Go: Fear in the Driver's Seat." Kiese was not on the list of authors to present but so many people were unable to get to the conference because of winter storms that there were missing presenters all over the place, and he was able to fill in for another writer on this one. He shared about this book, which he had recently finished, and how full of second guessing he was, by how much he'd shared, how honest he'd been, how he had to write it but wish he hadn't. I knew it would not be an easy read.

Laymon explores what it's like to move through the world in a black body, it's true, and that's often the first thing people say. But his body is also one that has not been protected in other ways. He has suffered what reads between the lines like inappropriate sexual contact with family members from a young age, because of his size and availability. The entire narrative is addressed to his mother, who is the "you," but it can make for an uncomfortable reading experience as it feels addressed to the reader. Members of his family struggle with different types of addiction and at first it just seems like drugs, but then more is revealed, and all seems tied to his weight - the weight of secrets, the weight of being physically heavy, the weight of carrying financial worry, the weight of unhealthful lightness, the weight of imposter syndrome in academia paired with insane accusations at every stage of achievement, whether it's an A paper or a tenure review.

Here it is, on the page. It feels like he wrote it because he had to. I don't know if I felt completely comfortable participating in that process, but maybe that's the side of heavy that can turn positive - if you move through life and go ahead and take up space, other people can deal with it however they want, and how they do is really none of your business. I think that is the way that I most resonate with his narrative.

I received an eARC from the publisher through Edelweiss, but the book has been out since October 16, 2018, and made a lot of books of the year lists. It took me a while longer to get through it, but I am glad I read it.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Reading Envy 141: Profound and Tedious Work

Yanira and Jenny gather again at the turning of the year to talk about books we have read and liked lately, and books we hope to read in the near future. We are not afraid, not of tedium, not of long books, okay but maybe we don't want to read about whales.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 141: Profound and Tedious Work

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Books discussed:

Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating by Moira Weigel
Sula by Toni Morrison
When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Other mentions:

Book Riot Challenge 2018
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
American Hookup by Lisa Wade
Jenny Colgan
Louise Miller (I called her Louise Baker because she is a baker, whoops!)
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Jesmyn Ward
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Origins of Others by Toni Morrison
From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe
Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight

Related episodes:
Episode 070 - Words Like Weapons with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 096 - Not Without Hope with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 108 - Venn Diagram with Yanira Ramirez 

Stalk me online:
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Yanira is @notafraidofwords on Litsy 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Review: The Popol Vuh

The Popol Vuh The Popol Vuh by Michael Bazzett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Here we will write. Here we will plant the ancient word of the beginning, the origin of all that was done in the citadel of K'iche', among the people of K'iche' nation."

An epic poem of creation and culture from the K'iche' people of what is now Guatemala, newly translated into verse by Michael Bazzett.

I found it breathtaking and intriguing throughout, but I especially liked the long period before the humans turn up, and how many elements of the culture are embedded into the creation story.

"Surely, we await the dawn."

I received an early copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, but I was belated in reading it and it is already available.

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Review: The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma

The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma by Jan-Philipp Sendker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the first read for my Asia 2019 reading goals, an eARC I received last year never got around to reading. But this was perfect timing. These are folktales gathered the right way - with long developed relationships with people there, from multiple people groups in the very large country (the size of Texas!) I originally went to grad school for folklore, and despite all the tales I've read, I don't remember encountering any that include astrology AND Buddhism AND animals that speak. I loved that humans don't always outsmart the animals, that monks don't always know better than astrology, and that so many of these stories are still told.

I received an early copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss, but I'm slow and it came out already, in October 2018.

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book 1 of 2019! I can't believe I'd never read this before. I was inspired by @hardcoverheartsblog (in Instagram) to readalong on January 1, but had to download the audio to play along.

I knew this was an epistolary account between a reader and someone at a bookstore, but I had a lot of misconceptions:
1. This is a romance
2. The letters are between two people
3. Everyone lives in the UK
4. This is a novel (no!)

It's a short, enjoyable read about books and readers, so in that vein it is somewhat of a love story. And another surprise - most of the books discussed are not fiction either! And there is a lot of meat.

And actually I loved this in audio, with multiple narrators reading for the different letter writers.

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Review: A Doll's House

A Doll's House A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first read for the Books and Chocolate (blog) Back to the Classics challenge - a play, to fulfill this item:
12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.

The play premiered in Copenhagen in 1879. Ibsen was asked to write an additional ending for German audiences, one that ends more wretchedly and punishing for the woman.

The play is set in a small Norwegian town in 1879, and takes place entirely inside a house. Technically the translation into English of the title is "A Doll House," but this is often altered for English-speakers to A Doll's House. Nora is the wife and mother at the center of the story, seen as frivolous and needing direction by her father. She hasn't told him about money she's spent and borrowed (for his health care!) and it's about to unravel.

Can I spoil the ending of a classic play? It's important that the character of Nora makes decisions for herself at the end after suffering an entire life as a "doll" for her father and then her husband. It's interesting that this is written not long before feminist texts like The Yellow Wallpaper come on the scene in America, although the play itself was not performed in the states until after that time. All relatively of the same era though, confronting the tension between old roles and new.

Ibsen portrays the husband as completely bewildered when his wife starts charting her own path. He is a bit bumbling and out of sorts in the end. It is interesting that a male playwright could capture that so well. After an obstacle is cleared, he turns to her and says
"Now we're thrown back on each other completely... My darling wife, how can I hold you close enough?"
If you are female you are probably groaning the way the audience did. His controlling endearment is capture exactly right, and in many ways is a bit timeless.

I listened to the LA Theatre Works version of A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen, in English of course. Calista Flockhart plays Nora and actors whose voices sound like more famous actors play the other roles (I could have sworn her husband is played by Kyle MacLachlan, but nope!) They do a nice job and you can hear responses from the audience, making the listening experience one notch above reading the text, but not as good as seeing it in person of course.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reading Envy 140: Woman Greets Bear (Reading Goals 2019)

Reading goals, old and new!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 140: Woman Greets Bear (Reading Goals 2019)

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
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Reading Goals 2018

1. Read Canada and Alaska
Canada and Alaska Reading Roundup

2. Complete six book speed-dating projects
I did five!
Episode 113 - Speed Dating 2018, round 1
Episode 117 - Speed Dating 2018, round 2
Episode 120 - Summer Reading; Speed Dating 2018, round 3
Episode 128 - Poetry and Whale Guts (Bonus episode; Speed Dating 2018, round 4)
Episode 135 - Speed Dating 2018, Round 5 

3. Host two Reading Envy readalongs
Episode 118 - Reading Envy Readalong: To the Bright Edge of the World
Episode 137 - Reading Envy Readalong: The Golden Notebook

4. Reading challenges

Reading Women Challenge

Unread Shelf Project 2018 (found in Instagram)
Not really! I talk about it during the episode.

5. Keep book data outside of Goodreads
Planner and Google spreadsheet.

Reading Goals 2019

1. Read Asia

Books set in Asian countries I still need to tackle, from my collection

2. Host two readalongs
3. Six themed recommendations episodes
4. Back to the Classics Challenge (see my potential choices)

Stalk me online:
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy